THE chronic row between conservationists and a salad company in Alresford is rumbling on.

The dispute centres on the release back into the River Alre of water used by Alresford Salads in washing crops.

Salmon & Trout Conservation says the discharge includes pesticides used in cultivation and these chemicals are harming invertebrates downstream on the Alre and the upper reaches of the River Itchen. It is calling on the company to stop the practice.

The charity says toxic neonicotinoid washed off salad leaves exceeds acceptable concentrations by up to 400 per cent.

Data from a recent Freedom of Information request by the charity shows that levels of Acetamiprid, a pesticide discharged by Bakkavör, have regularly exceeded acceptable concentrations. This toxic pesticide and many more are washed off leaves in preparing bags of salad.

Acetamiprid is in the neonicotinoid family, many of which were recently banned for use in Europe due to their acute toxic impact on bees.

Alresford Salads’ owner, Bakkavör pls, supplies supermarkets including Tesco and Waitrose, with fresh produce such as watercress, baby leaf and organic salads and herbs.

Nick Measham, chief executive of Salmon and Trout Conservation (STC) said: “Enough is enough. Bakkavör’s Alresford Salads factory has a long history of polluting the Upper Itchen. This latest revelation is the most troubling yet.

“Quite simply this pesticide pollution has to stop, and now. These chemicals will be killing aquatic insects, destroying the primary food source of wild salmon and trout. Bakkavör must end emissions of these and all other toxins which occur as a by-product of their processes. If they continue to refuse to do so, the EA must take decisive action.”S&TC alleges there are fundamental failures in the regulatory approach applied here, which must be addressed by the EA.

Dr Janina Gray, head of policy and science, at Salmon & Trout Conservation, said: “Bakkavör is surely the tip of the iceberg. These issues appear to be widespread and will be causing ongoing environmental damage. The existing permitting regime wholly fails to protect the environment from the damaging effects of a range of toxic chemicals. What is even more worrying is the emerging science suggesting that a “cocktail effect” may increase the toxicity of many different chemicals beyond the sum of their parts. The EA has failed to keep pace with what is actually polluting our rivers.”

In a statement Bakkavör said: "As part of our regular testing at our Alresford site, which is monitored with the Environment Agency, we detected two occasions of slightly higher pesticide levels in February and March of this year. This was not a common occurrence and a full investigation was undertaken and remedial action carried out which the Environment Agency was made fully aware of.

"The Environment Agency has acknowledged the effectiveness of the prompt and proactive remedial actions we have taken, and our monitoring continues."

Last summer the Chronicle reported the dispute and STC’s criticism of Bakkavör after the findings of an investigation by the Environment Agency were released.

The report found that sewage and pesticides from a salad washing factory owned by Bakkavör “poses a potential risk of exposure to invertebrates downstream”.

However, it added: “It is unlikely that environmental damage has occurred as a result of organic inputs that could have led to a deterioration of the invertebrate community.”

Bakkavör disputes the river is being damaged by chemicals entering the water through salad-washing.

Meanwhile, The Watercress Company which runs several beds in the Alresford area, near the Bakkavör plant, did not comment on the Salmon and Trout Conservation’s latest research.

But the company recently put out a press release saying the water flowing out of its three Hampshire farms contains impressive biodiversity - “a clear improvement since the first survey in 2018, the data demonstrates the water leaving the watercress beds and flowing into the Itchen, is of high quality and supports abundant wildlife that is so desperately needed in the main rivers.”

The Watercress Company is the UK’s biggest grower of watercress with 50 acres in Dorset and Hampshire.

The company says it takes its stewardship of water extremely seriously. Managing director Tom Amery said: “We are a stakeholder in the wider river network being a substantial part of the water source. We cherish our water, so it is clean when it leaves us, and we are proud to pass it on and encourage others to be respectful throughout the river network. There are many challenges downstream, including the removal of trees increasing river temperature, septic tank discharge, road wash and runoff from less sustainable farming operations. Our role is river augmentation and it’s essential we minimise any impact and measure our success in improving diversity on our farms.”

The Itchen, along with the Test, are the two most iconic chalk streams in the world, where the art of dry fly fishing was perfected in the 1800s and they remain the spiritual home of fly fishing for trout.